STARKVILLE, Miss. - In every program's history, there is one defining moment that can vault it to another level. For the No. 11 Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-0, 3-0 SEC), Saturday's matchup against the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0 SEC) provides the opportunity for that very defining moment.
Saturday's battle for first place in the SEC West will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. CT and will be broadcast live on ESPN. Fans not able to catch the game on television can listen to the broadcast on the Mississippi State Radio Network and Sirius Radio (Channel 85) and XM Radio (Channel 85).
When the lights come on at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday night, it will be showdown between two teams with stellar defenses and consistent offenses. State leads the nation in turnover margin (+16), while Alabama follows closely in third place with a turnover margin of +14. On offense, the Bulldogs have gained nearly 3,000 yards through their first seven games (2,918 total), while Alabama has gained 3,077 total yards on the year. Both teams have created a balanced attack in their gameplans, with both passing and rushing for over 1,200 yards this season.
For the Bulldogs, All-American Johnthan Banks has been the definitive leader of one of the more dominant defenses in State's history. Banks has yet to allow a passing touchdown, intercepted four passes, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and has broken up five passes. The Maben, Miss., native is second among all active players with 16 career interceptions, tied with Walt Harris for the school mark, and needs only four to tie the SEC career record of 20 (set twice). The senior's outstanding play has garnered a plethora of national attention, including being a nominee for six of college football's national awards.
When head coach Dan Mullen's offense faces off against a lockdown Alabama defense, the fourth-year coach will depend on his junior quarterback, Tyler Russell to lead the attack. Russell's first year as the field general of the Bulldogs has been nothing short of elite, being one of three quarterbacks this season with 15-plus passing touchdowns and one or fewer interceptions. Russell will pair with junior running back LaDarius Perkins in taking on the Crimson Tide. The Greenville, Miss., native leads the SEC in all-purpose yards per game (143.3) and rushing yards per game (103.6) and is one of just two backs in the FBS to rush for a touchdown in every game this season.
The Crimson Tide has a wide range of defensive skill players to face the Bulldogs. Most notably, midseason All-American Dee Milliner has intercepted two passes, while forcing a fumble and amassing 23 total tackles for the Tide. Junior C.J. Mosley has also recorded two picks this season, tying the school's career mark, while forcing a fumble, recovering a fumble and garnering a team-leading 58 tackles.
A.J. McCarron will be the signal-caller for the Crimson Tide Saturday night. McCarron leads the nation in passing efficiency (183.63) while tossing 16 touchdowns in the first seven games of the season, the most by any Alabama quarterback to start a season. Running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon have paced the Tide throughout the season in the run game, helping Alabama rush for 1,536 yards. Lacy owns two 100+ rushing yard games, while Yeldon, the true freshman, has contributed three of his own.
In last year's meeting, the Crimson Tide scratched and clawed their way to a victory against the Bulldogs, defeating State in Starkville 24-7 in a heavily defensive matchup. The game was scoreless through one, when Lacy pounded one in from two-yards out to send Alabama into the half on top 7-0. After a Crimson Tide field goal and rushing touchdown from Trent Richardson, the Bulldogs answered with a 12-yard strike from Russell to Chris Smith. In the closing minutes, Lacy broke away for a 32-yard TD to put the game out of reach for the Bulldogs.
After Saturday night's battle for SEC West supremacy, the Bulldogs will return home to face their new SEC West neighbor, the Texas A&M Aggies. Kickoff time and broadcast has yet to be set for the Snow Bowl reunion matchup.
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